By Anamika Misra:
A year ago I took a sabbatical from writing and sharing my thoughts on the internet, maybe because University and coursework finally got to me or because there was suddenly too much going and all the issues were significant enough for me to write about but there are only so many feelings of rage and despondence I can convey before I start drowning in them and lose sight of things that require my immediate attention.
This think piece doesn’t originate from a place of some skewed self-importance or a need to prove to myself that I’m still capable of churning out articles but as an exercise in catharsis.
On our 70th Independence Day, I’m faced with questions and thoughts deliberating what has been, what is and what will be. Thoughts and questions, exacerbated by my presence in a foreign country (and incidentally one that we celebrate our freedom from, today) currently facing waves of racial intolerance; where my skin colour, my heritage, even my name sticks out like a sore thumb from time to time and sometimes gives me the feeling of having a target painted on my back, for people to throw racial slurs and abuse like arrows.
The catharsis I seek is from these feelings of diaspora, wherein I’m not British enough to truly belong here or Indian enough to truly belong to my country. And as time goes, I can’t help but feel I’m losing a place in India, not because I’m carving a home out for myself here in England but because, suddenly India has become a land of ideologies, attitudes and mindsets so opposite of mine. I love my country and its madness but I am ashamed of the way we treat our minorities, political dissidents, or those whom we don’t agree with. Never did I think I’d hear the phrase ‘Anti-Indian’ in a country of constant technological and intellectual innovations, which readily accepts the status quo being challenged and even encourages it; but, alas, I did.
The last Indian Independence Day I celebrated in India was some 2 years ago, our 68th, hot on the success of Narendra Modi being elected our new Prime Minister and a BJP victory in general. The elections and their results left me unhappy and perplexed about the future to come, maybe because I was brought up in a household that was fervently in support of the Indian National Congress (despite its many many flaws) or maybe because my upbringing was very liberal and in many ways “westernised”, but who knows?
The months that followed saw an uprising in intolerance, “nationalism” and the spreading of “Hindutva” and anyone who had opinions against the status quo was suddenly branded “anti-national” or even a “terrorist”. My views may be biased for reasons aforementioned but in a country that takes pride in being the largest democracy, isn’t the right to dissent an important tool to keep the government in check?
Today’s Doordarshan programme emphasised on how India is a country striving for equality, but are we really? Where is the equality for Muslims? For Dalits? For the LGBTQ+ community? Why is AFSPA still implemented? Why are draconian laws such as those against sedition still in practice? Why won’t Parliament repeal S.377 of the IPC? Must Kashmir become a state pooling with blood and orphans before we hear their cries?
We are the youngest democracy in the world (in terms of the mean age of the population) but our outlook is one of ages bygone and efforts to change this outlook is often met with jarring remarks and name-calling. During the JNU protests, I was dismayed to see what had become of our student spaces that are meant to encourage free thinking and expression and obviously shared my dismay online. I was ready for people to disagree with my opinion but what I wasn’t ready for was people to attack my personal character and my national identity. As if being called a “presstitute” or a “sickularist” wasn’t bad enough, online trolls took aim at the fact that I’m an NRI and a girl, factors which would somehow negate my opinions and feelings of enragement completely. As a man on the internet said –“Who are you to feel so strongly? You left your country. If you cared about it, you would’ve stayed here.” Comments laced with such vitriol kept popping up on my others inbox or newsfeed, as if somehow, when passing through the immigration gates I had rescinded my national identity and the right to care and be enraged at my country.
70 years, it’s a pretty long time and it’s not like we haven’t come far. India went a long way to instil faith in the project of decolonisation, motivating other countries to follow suit. We have reached great heights in fields of science and technology, but when the tricolour unfurls today and flutters in the wind, and proud choruses of our national anthem will fill the air, I’ll restrain some of my pride. For I am proud to be Indian, for all that we have achieved, yet I’m also disappointed for the millions of people we have let down every day with unjust laws, for the many Kashmiris who will go to bed tonight worrying if they would be staring down the barrel of a gun tomorrow morning, for those living in the forests of Central India, awaiting with baited breath when their lands and lives will be taken from them in the name of development, for the women who have to run from their homes to prevent being killed in the name of honour.
Today, in moments of pride, I’ll also reflect on the moments of regret, for I love my country but I am also painfully aware that we aren’t free yet.